Robert B Bachman
December 6, 1922 – January 17, 2021
Robert Bihler Bachman, a truly remarkable sportsman, salesman and family man, died peacefully on Sunday, January 17 at the age of 98 at the North Hill Retirement Community in Needham. His was a storied life well lived—not many men could say they steered a Navy ship through a typhoon, raised four loving children with a wonderful woman he met on a blind date, played golf with Francis Ouimet and Bob Hope, won a national championship in badminton, sold steel for over 70 years and warmed the hearts of anyone who ever spent any time with him.
Bob is survived by Libby, his wife of 67 years, three of their four children (Jane, their beloved eldest, passed away in 2017) and their spouses, 12 grandchildren and four great grandchildren. Bob had other close-knit families, as well: the clients he called upon in Pennsylvania, New York, New England and Canada, the parishioners at the Wellesley Village Church, his neighbors in Wellesley and at North Hill, and the members and staff at the Brae Burn Country Club in Newton, where he was an admired fixture for 63 years. As his son Robert points out, “He was the oldest member of Brae Burn, but the youngest at heart.”
Born on December 6, 1922 in Coatesville, Pa., Bob was the second of Minnie and Emory Bachman’s two children. His father, a World War I veteran, managed the general store at the Lukens Steel Company and instilled in his son a strong work ethic. “He never paid me more than 50 cents an hour,” Bob would often remind his own children. His athletic skills became readily apparent at Coatesville High, where he was captain of the tennis team.
Upon graduation, Bob elected to go to Franklin & Marshall College, down the road in Lancaster, Pa. He played tennis there, too, until World War II intervened. Eager to join the war effort, he compressed his studies as an accounting major, graduating in three years at the age of 20. He then enlisted in the Navy, which sent him to officer candidate school at Northwestern University. From there, he served on a submarine chaser in Norfolk, Va., then on an oiler in Newfoundland, then on to the Philippines, where he commanded a coastal carrier. After the Japanese surrendered, he was ordered to return the ship to San Diego via Guam. “We hit one of the worst typhoons they’d ever seen in that part of the world,” he once recalled. “A five-day trip took us two weeks. I didn’t get seasick, but I had a chief petty officer who never got out of his sack.”
When Bob returned home to Coatesville, he found his future right next door, in an industry that he knew a little something about. Among other things, the Lukens Steel Company made the plate steel that was used for ships and submarines, and Bob joined its sales force. He was first assigned to the New York City office. For a while, he lived in Westfield, N.J., which brought him luck, both bad and good. The bad was a fire in a house he shared with other young professionals; Bob was rescued by firemen who found him unconscious inside. The good was meeting Libby Frolich, a Mount Holyoke graduate and chemist.
After a courtship tested by distance—Libby worked for DuPont in Wilmington, Del. and Bob was sent to Boston—they married in June of 1953.
They settled in Boston and started their family. Jane, who came to be called Bambi, was born in July of ’54, and John, known as Jeb, arrived in December of ’55. Bob and Libby then moved to Wellesley, and welcomed sons Bob in ‘58 and Peter in ‘61.
Bob had already proved to Lukens that he was a born salesman, doubling sales his first year while running the Boston office and doubling it again his second year. Among his clients were General Electric, General Dynamics, Bath (Me.) Iron Works and the Portsmouth (NH) Naval Shipyard. He was enthusiastic and well-prepared at every meeting, and his 5-handicap golf game helped where deals were sometimes made. He had the good fortune of playing with Francis Ouimet, the 1913 U.S. Open champion, several times before his death in 1967; Jack Welch, the future chairman of General Electric, and Bob Hope.
Bob was also a fixture at the University Club in Boston, where he played squash and badminton. In 1972, at the age of 50, he won a national mixed doubles championship in badminton. But nothing pleased him more than a golf game with one of his children or a ping-pong match with one of his grandchildren. Imagine his joy when daughter Bambi became the golf reporter for Sports Illustrated, and invited him to hang out with her at major tournaments.
Bob’s love for work never changed, but the steel business did. Lukens was hard-hit by the influx of foreign competitors in the mid-‘80s and had to slash its white-collar staff. Because Bob wasn’t ready to retire at 64, he reinvented himself as an independent sales rep and had newfound success. Thirty more years of it, in fact—he retired at the age of 95. The independence also gave “PopPop” a little more time to bask in the adventures of his children and grandchildren, and more people to entertain with his stories. Even until his death, Bob had an astonishing recall of events.
For 56 years, the Bachman home in Wellesley was the place to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, and the site of many birthday, anniversary and other celebrations. But the time had come to say goodbye to the house, so in June of 2014, they moved to North Hill. There they found a welcoming community of friendship and support that enhanced their lives.
The family did suffer a crushing blow in June of 2017, when Bambi succumbed to pancreatic cancer. Her death was especially hard on Bob, who lost the sister his daughter was named after eight years before. But last fall, from a distance, he was able to welcome to the family a fourth great-grandchild—a baby named Jane.
In 2017, the magazine for Franklin & Marshall decided to publish a profile of one of their 1942 graduates. It was entitled “The Man of Steel”, in part because of Bob Bachman’s calling, but also because his passion for life carried him through World War II, brushes with death, a stroke, a bout with prostate cancer and a deeply personal tragedy. No, he wasn’t Superman. What he was, though, was a loving husband and father, a man of God, a marvelous athlete, a hard-working, gregarious and honest salesman, a great storyteller and a friend to all.
In that magazine story, he told writer Roger Moore, “I have been very fortunate.” Truth be told, the people who knew and loved him were and are the lucky ones.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to the Robert B. Bachman Scholarship at the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund, either at www.ouimet.org or by mail to 300 Arnold Palmer Blvd., Norton, MA 02766, or in his memory to the Wellesley Village Church either at wellesleyvillagechurch.org or by mail to 2 Central Street, Wellesley, MA 02482.
No public services are scheduled at this time. Receive a notification when services are updated.
Robert B Bachman
January 28, 2021
My thoughts and prayers are with you and all your family.
January 23, 2021
Bob was such a a well respected friend and businessman, admired by his steel industry coworkers and customers alike. It was always a pleasure to hear stories of his past experiences each time we were together. He will be sorely missed, but it is comforting to know that all those memories will last forever. My deepest sympathy goes out to the entire Bachman family.
January 23, 2021
Bob Bachman Sr was a Renaissance man, a successful businessman and he was a true gentleman. But he was so much more: a loving husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather....and he was my friend.
He was also a backyard neighbor for 50 years and funny story: when my college dog Colby came home to live with the family in Wellesley...she would occasionally run off chasing squirrels and Id always start my search heading out the front door where she’d been playing and chasing those squirrels but seemingly every time I found her she was sitting happily next to Bob on his back patio as he was relaxing and sipping something fun. He’d holler up to me “she’s right here Bobby” and whenever I’d go to get her he would offer me a seat and we would sit and chat for a bit....he always made me feel special and welcome!
Bob loved his family and friends, golf and his beloved Brae Burn CC. The world was a better place with Bob in it!
The first tee is open, play a way Sir❤️❤️❤️
January 21, 2021
Bob was a great and well respected man. Bob was a true Renaissance man. I used to enjoy talking with him at length at Brae Burn over lunch and at the Villagers' dinners. I had and have deep respect for him and his family. The world has lost but will not forgot this great man. RIP Bob.
January 21, 2021
My sympathy and prayers go out to the Bachman family. Bob was a wonderful man who never missed a chance to say a good word when I saw him. He will be deeply missed.
January 19, 2021
Mr. Bob Bachman was an mazing man from the greatest generation in America. I loved listening to his stories and I will miss him very much and will never forget him.